Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
When you think about improving your sex life, Karma Sutra books and Cosmopolitan articles likely flash through your mind. But contrary to what movies, TV shows, and the media at large have conditioned us to believe, couples don't necessarily have to be sexually adventurous in order to have a great sex life (though an open mind doesn't hurt). To that end, some science-backed suggestions and lifestyle adjustments can have just as big of an effect on your sex life as anything written in a tantric sex book.
Consider this year's findings from sexual health professionals, relationship studies, and new experiments in personality psychology. From communication strategies to yogi-approved exercises, the following five suggestions will not only spice things up with your partner, but they'll also open up new avenues of communication and improve your sexual health. Here's what science says you should focus on to improve your sex life in 2017.
Focus on Responsiveness
Never underestimate the effect of open and honest communication on overall sexual satisfaction. New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology even found a correlation between sexual desire and attentiveness, especially for women. "Sexual desire tends to subside gradually over time, with many couples failing to maintain desire in their long-term relationships," explained the researchers. But, simply responding and attending to your partner's needs, sexual or otherwise, can increase sexual satisfaction over time.
"People who perceive their partner as responsive believe that this partner understands and appreciates their needs, as well as reacts supportively to their goals," said lead study author Gurit E. Birnbaum, Ph.D. "This is important because it shows that you not only care about your partner's well-being but that you also truly understand his or her wants and needs." To cultivate responsiveness in your relationship, Birnbaum suggests setting aside time to talk and listen to your partner every day, without judgment or interruption. This intellectual intimacy may lead to greater connection behind closed doors.
Don't overdo it
As it turns out, there is a magic number when it comes to sexual frequency, and it's probably much lower than you thought. According to a study published in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, couples in long-term relationships who have sex once a week are actually the happiest. "For the average person, having sex more frequently than once a week was not associated with greater happiness, but it wasn't associated with less happiness, either," said lead study author Amy Muise, Ph.D. "It's important to maintain a sexual connection with a romantic partner, but it's also important to have realistic expectations for one's sex life." In other words, don't feel pressured to alter your sex life to fit within society's expectations.
Do these 5-minute exercises
According to yoga expert Karly Treacy, certain poses using your pelvic muscles can do more than improve flexibility and mindfulness. "Considering that orgasms are the result of muscular contractions, we want to be certain that all of the muscles that are responsible for sexual satisfaction are awake, flexible, strong, and capable of functioning to their maximum potential," said Treacy in an interview with MyDomaine.
She recommends the seated breathing pose, the reclining bound angle pose, and the tried-and-true runner's lunge to awaken and strengthen these important muscles. Physical benefits aside, a 2009 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine also found a connection between mindfulness and increased sexual desire and arousal in women. Get stretching.
Don't play hard to get
While playing hard to get may capture the attention of a potential suitor in the flirtation stage, research suggests that the opposite behavior will lead to greater intimacy behind closed doors. A 2016 study published in the British Journal of Psychology found that people who behaved more altruistically, or were simply nicer and more perceptive to others' wants and needs, also had more active sex lives. After analyzing the responses of nearly 300 male and female participants, the researchers found a link between altruistic acts, like donating money or giving blood, and more frequent sex within romantic relationships.
Make time for relaxation
It's no secret that high-stress activities, like juggling work with motherhood, planning for the holidays, or all three at once, can lead to spikes in the stress hormone cortisol. But unfortunately, studies show that cortisol also decreases feelings of sexual arousal, desire, and satisfaction, primarily in women. To keep your libido from dipping, New York-based clinical psychologist and sex therapist Megan Fleming, MD, recommends taking a break from life's daily stressors, and scheduling some much-need vacation time with your partner. "Prioritize the time so it can actually happen, and then be flexible in the moment to see what you both feel like doing."
Want to learn more? Shop our selection of sexual health books below, and share your tips in the comments!